Hell is a fashionable and widely used word, but not a popular concept. Even to employ the term seriously is to put one beyond the pale in the minds of many who pride themselves on their intelligence and sophistication. Oddly enough, this attitude is found even among churchgoers. At the very least, the response is that last refuge of the meager mind: the smile-behind-the-hand, or the superior laugh. What people laugh at is one of the most exact of all definitions of what they are. Some have been known to laugh at Lear. To laugh at the terrible, the cruel, the majestic, is to tell much about the laugher, little about what is laughed at.
The English word hell is related to the Old English helan, meaning to hide or cover. It is not my purpose here to deal with the various words translated “hell” in the King James Version of the Bible, nor to go into the various meanings of the Hebrew sheol or the Greek hades. The purpose, rather, is to examine only one aspect of what the Bible teaches about that place where, we are told, the wicked (the unredeemed) are consigned after the Great Judgment. Most of the teachings of Jesus about this place involve the use of the Greek word geenna, derived from Gehenna (or Gehinnom), the valley of Hinnom, where in ancient days children were sacrificed to Moloch and where, later, trash was thrown and burned. Connotations of that which is condemned, useless, corrupt, and forever discarded cling to the word like a stench.
The eternal hell Jesus speaks of, however, is not a location chosen, as it were, at random in the universe. Rather, it has been “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41), “a universe of death, which God by curse/Created evil, for evil only good,/Where all life dies, death ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more